By Gordon Hatch - MotoGP correspondent
The old and the new - Will this year's YZR-M1 be better than in 2010?
When reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo rolls onto the grid for the opening round of the 2011 championship in Qatar in a few weeks time, all eyes will be on the 23-year-old Spaniard to see if the development work he has carried out on this year's Factory Yamaha YZR-M1 will be enough.
Lorenzo and new teammate Ben Spies have been working tirelessly on nearly all areas of the bike and after the first two official winter tests in Sepang, Malaysia, only the Hondas are faster in outright time attacks.
Lorenzo believes that he and his team are moving in the right direction and has confirmed the new chassis for 2011 is working well with traction on the rear wheel now improved after the Mallorcan identified it as an area needing attention from the first test.
The Yamaha team fielded four bikes at both tests, Lorenzo and Spies on their 2010 bikes with a number of new parts and then the team's test bikes with the remainder of the newly-prepared parts ready to be evaluated.
Both riders were given two engine choices at the first test and also different chassis options to try out. The new aluminium twin tube chassis that for this year has revised weight-distribution and stiffness to improve traction. The engine choices have both higher top speed than last year's.
Yamaha have stayed with what they know for this year in using the inline-four stroke engine reverse crossplane crankshaft that was the brainchild of Masao Furusawa and which has seen Valentino Rossi winning two world titles on the 800cc bike ('08 & '09) and Lorenzo taking last year's crown.
While both tests in Sepang has seen clear choices for chassis and electronics being made, the team is still uncertain about whether the new Ohlins suspension is any better than what they used last year.
There is one big area that Lorenzo is still concerned about however - the engine. Yamaha have worked extensively on the new motor with focus on increasing outright horsepower while improving cooling to allow it to rev higher and also to improve the lifespan of the engine.
Last year both Lorenzo and his then teammate Valentino Rossi wanted more horsepower but the slight difference in power to the rest of the field didn't hamper either rider as their main rivals, (Honda and Ducati) both had much bigger problems throughout the year.
However, this year is going to be very different with Honda now well and truly on the pace coming away from both Sepang test with the fastest riders; factory riders Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa who both broke the two- minute mark at Sepang last time out and satellite rider Marco Simoncelli who grabbed the fastest time on the final day of the first test on his San Carlo Gresini Honda.
Lorenzo spoke about his concerns about some areas of the bike but was also happy with other areas, "I don't think any rider is ever totally satisfied but I understand it is really difficult to improve a MotoGP bike at this level when it is already so successful. The 2011 bike seems to have less wheelie so we can open the throttle earlier in the corners and in some corners I have better corner speed as well.
We've definitely improved the traction a lot, although we could still do with some more power. I think we've made some big steps forward with traction and feel, although we still need to improve our lap time," said the reigning champion.
The help Ben spies is giving in testing is proving to be invaluable as now this year the team can operate as a single unit as opposed to last year where Rossi insisted on a dividing wall be erected between his and Lorenzo's sides of the garage with no information being shared between them.
During the two tests Spies worked mainly on electronics and other areas like suspension and also the engine. Spies and his crew are already a very tight unit and achieved a very promising pace at Sepang after some medium- distance runs on this year's bike.
"We worked on some race set up and I also worked on some different riding styles. We tried a couple of shocks and found a few tenths and were still consistently fast on used tyres which was promising. We worked on some electronics for fuel consumption without compromising lap times and we found a good solution for that as well," said the Texan.
Spies wasn't without his own concerns though, "We need to figure out how to get the bike a little bit quicker for a few laps, definitely for qualifying and the beginning of the race," but he still remained upbeat about the complete bike package, "We did a few long runs and were quite fast on a hot track so it has been really productive finding how to be consistent in the heat. I think we've gained a lot, especially with the rear grip of the bike," Spies added.
Yamaha Factory Racing Team Director Massimo Meregalli is happy with the direction the team is taking in its preparations for the season ahead, "In general for the team it's been quite positive, we had no problem and got good information from both sides of the garage. Overall as a team we are pleased, everyone has worked hard to ensure that on both sides of the garage we have tested everything we needed to," he said.
Team Manager Wilco Zeelenberg is also upbeat about how the pre-season testing is going, "We've seen it's very competitive over the last couple of days with more riders than last year able to compete for the podium so I think it's going to be a very exciting season. We've improved the package compared to the last time we were here racing here which was our goal.
I am satisfied with the results of the long run. Jorge was very consistent and the grip didn't drop that much towards the end, of course we have more work to do and we will continue to work on it," Zeelenberg added.
So now the main focus of Yamaha for the next and final test at Qatar on 13th&14th March will be on the engine. Lorenzo's main point of concern is acceleration in second and third gears while more horsepower was also on his wishlist.